Beware GMO Salmon

Wild, non-GMO Atlantic Salmon

GMO Salmon have made headlines before—check out our older blog for more details on the fishiest GMOs.

AquAdvantage Salmon to be Sold in the United States

On March 8, the American FDA lifted its ban on the import of the genetically modified AquAdvantage salmon created by AquaBounty Technologies. The FDA initially approved this GMO for human consumption in 2015, but Congress required the FDA to halt imports of the fish until appropriate GMO labeling guidelines could be established. The FDA announced that this congressional mandate has been fulfilled through the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which requires the labeling of (some) GMOs at the federal level. Now that GMO salmon will be labeled in the US, the FDA has given the go-ahead to import, raise, and sell GMO salmon.

Congress is not the only institution that found fault with the hasty approval of the world’s first genetically modified meat; environmental groups immediately took issue with the FDA’s decision as well. The Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, The Center for Biological Diversity, and multiple employees at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service have all called AquaBounty’s product a threat to other salmon.

George Kimbrell at the Center for Food Safety called the FDA “dangerously out of touch with the facts on the ground,” and Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth said “It is increasingly clear that there is inadequate regulation: the FDA is trying to shoehorn this new genetically engineered animal into a completely ill-fitting regulatory process.” Their groups and several others sued the FDA over its hurried approval, which may have violated several laws including:

  • Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act
  • National Environmental Policy Act
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Federal Food and Drug Amendments Act of 2007
  • Administrative Procedure Act

This litigation is ongoing. George Kimbrell and other stakeholders still believe their lawsuit could keep these GMO fish out of American stores if it is successful. “We think a remedy in our case would stop sale of the fish before they’re allowed to be sold,” he says.

Meanwhile, the AquAdvantage salmon has been quietly sold unlabeled in Canada since 2017. As of September 2018, AquaBounty reported that nearly 15 metric tons of the fish had been sold, but would not say to whom. The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network and other stakeholders are working to address multiple issues related to the labeling and marketing of this fish in Canada.

AquAdvantage Salmon

AquAdvantage salmon is a transgenic GMO that contains DNA from three different types of fish: Atlantic salmon, Chinook salmon, and the eel-like ocean pout. This results in a salmon that grows nearly twice as fast as other farmed Atlantic salmon while consuming about 25 percent less feed. Researchers do not yet know if these fish will have other, off-target effects as a result of their genetic manipulation.

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These living GMOs are bred to be sterile and always female in hopes of preventing them from mixing with wild populations. Unfortunately, it only takes one mishap for GMO contamination to occur. Once GMOs are released into the environment, there is no recalling them into the lab. Contamination events spanning decades and continents prove that no containment plan is foolproof. Some people are particularly concerned that AquaBounty is not being careful enough in Panama, where authorities ruled that AquaBounty had “repeatedly violated” certain environmental regulations.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard

The FDA announced that since the USDA already set rules for GMO labeling by establishing the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, the congressional labeling requirement has been met. Many of the most prevalent GMOs will remain unlabeled under this fatally-flawed law because it contains so many omissions and loopholes. Despite these many shortcomings, AquAdvantage salmon and most products containing AquAdvantage salmon will require a “bioengineered food” disclosure under this law. This specific salmon is explicitly included in the USDA’s List of Bioengineered Foods.

Take the quiz: Which GMOs will be labeled and which will be hidden under the NBFDS?

The company has been farming conventional salmon in its Indiana facility while waiting for the FDA to lift the import ban. In the interim, it has been raising GMO fish in Panama, then exporting them to Canada for sale.

AquaBounty will now be permitted to import eggs to the Indiana-based farming facility it has held since June 2017. The company hopes to have its GMO salmon on the market as soon as 2020. Since compliance with the NBFDS does not become mandatory until 2022, it is unclear whether AquaBounty would choose to label its salmon in the interim. This means it is possible, but not certain, that GMO salmon could be sold in the US without a GMO disclosure for two years.


Consumers Reject GMO Meat

The hasty government approval of GMO salmon demonstrates once again that the FDA puts agribusiness first and consumers second. Despite this failure to create meaningful regulations, consumers and consumer groups are fighting back. Consumers don’t want GMO salmon–polls show only 35 percent of Americans would even try it. Nearly two million people sent the FDA comments asking them not to approve GMO salmon back in 2013, but the FDA did not listen. Luckily, many grocery retailers are listening. More than 80 retailers with a total of over 16,000 locations nationwide have promised not to sell genetically modified seafood.